Fear Isn’t Logical: “The Humans”

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Presented by Boch Center and the Roundabout Theatre Company
By Stephen Karam
Directed by Joe Mantello

Shubert Theatre
Boston, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) The Humans is a play about fear and the ways we humans navigate them. Brigid(Daisy Egan) and Rich (Luis Vega) are hosting Thanksgiving in their first adult apartment in Manhattan. Sister Aimee (Therese Plaehn) has recently broken up with the love of her life. Parents, Deirdre (Pamela Reed) and Erik (Richard Thomas) have brought grandma Momo (Lauren Klein). Regardless of their troubles, everyone is determined to have a nice time.

Disability, mobility and capability are a central theme in this play. Momo depends upon a wheelchair to get around. Her Alzheimer’s related dementia requires constant monitoring. Dad has a bad back. Mom needs a knee replacement. St airs are difficult. Aimee can’t wander too far from a bathroom because colitis is a bitch. Only Rich has the capacity for figurative and factual upward mobility.

Karam layers anxiety and fear onto this family’s physical restrictions. Richard had depression but he’s okay now. He speaks as if mental health were something that needs healing only the once. Even Brigid is crippled by her chronic unemployment in the most expensive city in the US. Erik keeps destructive secrets from his daughters. His distress drives him to drink and nearly broke up his marriage. Fear, regardless of its rationality, can break down the mind like disability breaks down the body. Karam shows us that religion, whether it’s in the form of faith or alternative lifestyle, can be palliative. Proper care with a medical professional is needed for true healing.

Lauren Klein plays Fiona “Momo” Blake with respectful grace. Momo is a quiet but striking role. She has several severe but life-affirming outbursts that may trigger some audience members. It requires the actor to remain omnipresent in every scene. Her lines are few but effectual and require constant vulnerability. Klein’s staging work with Mantello reminds us of our human fragility. We are all at risk of disability; be it by age or accident.

The Shubert is a beautiful space. It has gorgeous, gold statues and moldings. That it was turned into a dank Manhattan apartment complex out of a horror movie is unusual. Black curtains hang around the set to fill in the extra wing space and lend to the creepy atmosphere. The set is dwarfed by the proscenium.

The Humans is a production that needs a smaller space. The stage swallows the actors’ performances. Because they were playing characters with precarious mobility, their body language gave us unreliable input. For example, a mom with a bum knee isn’t going to transmit her joy by waltzing across the stage (Reed didn’t; I’m just sayin’…). It would better suit the production if the audience were closer to the actors. Boch Center is better suited to dance and spectacle performances. Dramatic subtlety is lost in such a large space.

The Humans is a compassionate show. Women do most of the emotional work. This is mostly excusable because Karam wrote four female characters (five if you count the unseen landlady) and only two male ones. That being said, the Blake family embraces Momo’s frailty when others might put her in hospice. Loving our disabled friends, acquaintances and family is the only option. Fearing their infirmities to the point of alienation is crueler as ostracizing our disabled community members. Pretending that they don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. It doesn’t lessen our own personal risk.

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